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Best Graphic Novels of 2015:

An International Perspective Part 2

In this second round-up from my international correspondents, I am once again hugely grateful to these five European connoisseurs for selecting and commenting on their favourites graphic novels of 2015. The range and brilliance of these books released last year reconfirms what exceptional times we are living through for the comics medium. And let’s hope it’s not too long before more of these creators’ gems get translated into English. In the meantime, explore their new titles and expand your horizons… 

ARGENTINA - FINLAND - ITALY - SPAIN - SWEDEN - SWITZERLAND

Argentina

Selected by Juan Manuel Dominguez
Juan Manuel Dominguez wanted to be a superhero. Now, the Batman-Gorey lover drowns his dreams of saving the universe with comics and film criticism - the Clark Kent answer to reality - and believes his folks and friends contribute to the most super factor of his professional and non-ultra-powered life.


Informe – Historieta Argentina del Siglo XXI (‘Report - 21st Century Argentine Comics’)
by various artists
Editorial Municipal de Rosario

When you talk about comics in countries like Argentina, you’re talking mainly about a self-published industry. With more than a hundred books by comics artists published last year, less than 20% of them came from big publishing houses, who tender to be conservative when it comes to their choices for printing comics. Big names like Chris Ware, for example, we get to read because we receive leftovers from editions issued in Spain. That’s why an anthology like Informe (‘Report’) is such an important book. Actually, it’s a landmark. It’s a magnificent edition, carefully put together. The cost of self-publishing usually results in a pretty plain design when it comes to the actual book –any luxury besides the basics puts up the printing costs. ) Informe shows the works of 20 artists, all under 40. The mix curated by José Sainz ranges from Berliac and his cut-and-dry yet sensitive maga narrative, to the Winsor McCay-for-K-Pop fans Tintin homage by Sofía Gomez, which means that a wide spectrum of angles, styles, ideas, positions and even notions of comics are put together. They clash with each other, but instead of that clash being a tragedy, it actually helps each comic to get the push it needs to reach higher and different places. The mix makes each artist more powerful and personal and the care put in the edition shows a possible utopia –this is not only a book, it’s a window onto what Argentinian comics could be if they were taken care of in the most loving, innovative and savage way possible. Anthologies usually come together as a ZIP file that tries to capture a zeitgeist, but in this case it actually works as a prism: it enlightens corners that we actually thought were going to stay in the dark way for many, many years. We have seen the light. Let´s hope it’s not only one day in the sun. In 208 colour pages it offers comics by Andrés Alberto, Berliac, Pablo Boffelli, Lucía Brutta, Estefanía Clotti, Manuel Depetris, Marianoenelmundo, effýmia, Sofía Gómez, Pablo Guaymasi, Natalia Lombardo, María Luque, Pedro Mancini, Nicolás Mealla, Lucas Mercado, María Victoria Rodríguez, Camila Torre Notari, Javier Velasco, Pablo Vigo, and Nacha Vollenweider. Cover by Federico Calandria. Selected, edited and with a prologue by José Sainz. Watch this YouTube trailer for a taster…



Judíos (‘Jews’)
by Sergio Langer
Planeta

“I never went out to do a book about jews” said Sergio Langer in an interview about, well, Judíos, his magnum opus on Judaism. Langer is a corrosive cartoonist, who for the last 30 years through his editorial and comics work has been able to capture (and synthesise) the most grotesque and two-faced aspects of Argentinian society and its class struggle. When you think of Langer, think about big, thick black lines (similar to France’s Philippe Vuillemin, but with more wide lines), but also a great ability to capture and process the slang and pathos of a certain social class in a funny yet devastating way. He has been Argentina’s most vicious cartoonist for many decades now. But Judíos is different. Langer invested here his demons, his personal story, his ideas, his fury and his comedy in a book that shows vignettes, a few comic pages and personal archive. Without giving away an inch to any other style, Langer’s new and old material come together as a blow in the face, as primal scream that has been waiting years to get out. For example: a powerful image such as Spider-Man on the gate of Auschwitz should be more than enough to understand his grief, his fury and his position when it comes to being politically correct. He’s offensive, he cuts deep and through the bone, he really explores this universe from its geopolitical aspects to its more local versions and idiosyncrasies. From its dancing Star of David on the cover to his Superman vs. Golem joke, Langer doesn´t need to be controversial and yet he manages to leave us admiring (and loving) his comical sense and his fierce yet heartfelt insensibility.


Finland

Selected by Harri Römpötti
Harri Römpötti is a freelance Helsinki-based journalist specialising in comics, cinema and music. He’s written and edited books on Finnish comics and curated exhibtions in Helsinki and abroad together with Ville Hänninen. He also curatied a programme of animated films related to comics for the Stuttgart Animation Festival 2015.


Toivon kirja (‘The Book of Hope’)
by Tommi Musturi
Like

Ten years in the making, Tommi Musturi’s Toivon kirja is his second major work after Samuelin matkassa (2009). It’s also an international breakthrough available in Spanish, Polish, German, Danish and English (from Fantagraphics as The Book of Hope). Radio news of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster sets the story in the year 1986. The setting is the Finnish countryside portrayed in drawings oozing nostalgia for the scenery of Musturi’s childhood. The story stretches from spring to winter and takes us into the mind of the main character, the elderly Toivo. Sometimes he daydreams about exploits playing heroic roles in movies like westerns, other times he mourns his mortality. Toivon kirja is very different from the fantasy of Samuelin matkassa. The only common characteristic is that the both protagonists suffer with loneliness, despite Toivo having a wife whose voice of reason is heard but who is not often seen in the images. On the surface little happens in Toivon kirja’s 200+ pages. But beneath lie strong tensions. The subtle storytelling contains details that offer sustenance for more than one reading.


Pedot (‘Beasts’)
by Eeva Meltio
Asema

The most original and impressive debut of the year has been anticpated for some time; Eeva Meltio has displayed her talents already in small press. The six short stories in Pedot relate encounters between humans and animals. Their quiet surrealism is related to the traditions of folklore, although handled with Meltio’s personal touch that contains more than a hint of contemporary absurdism. The story about a seal borrows most clearly from tradition. It’s a variant of the Irish legend of selkies, seals turning into humans. For ages in stories, animals have represented nature from which people have become alienated. The more tightly humans rule the world, the further apart from the mythical natural state they are seem to get. Sexuality is the part of nature which humans have fought hardest to suppress. And difficult emotions and experiences have been traditionally projected onto more or less anthropomorphic animals. Also in some of Meltio’s stories, animals represent repressed sexuality or death. Whenever a conflict arises between human and animal, it is the animal that will suffer. In many ways the title – ‘Beasts’ – of Meltio’s book refers more to us than to animals. Although Meltio’s subtle grey-toned drawings suggest a sombre atmosphere, the stories carry underlying humour of somewhat devilish sort.


Ufoja Lahdessa (‘UFO’s in Lahti’)
by Marko Turunen
Sarjakuvakauppa

Over 500 pages of Ufoja Lahdessa collect four of Marko Turunen’s books published over the last decade. They are connected by the main character, Muukalainen (‘Stranger’ or ‘Alien’), a short humanoid. In the beginning he’s shot through head but stays alive and keeps the hole in his head through the entire book. In his distinct surreal style, Turunen combines the imagery of superheroes and sci-fi with mundane details of everyday life. That style develops in the works collected here. The fantasy wears off and gives space for a realism of sorts. The characters remain as otherworldly as ever but their adventures take place in Lahti, Turunen’s former hometown. He draws its prefabricated apartment buildings with realism that suggests an odd fondness. Ufoja Lahdessa is a uniquely alienated or disguised autobiography. Alongside Muukalainen there is R-Rautanainen (‘I-Ironwoman’). The main characters are Turunen and his departed spouse. The last part, the titular Ufoja Lahdessa, is closest to real events. It tells of R-Rautanainen’s struggle against cancer. After that Turunen changed his alter-ego but has returned to the death of his wife. Ufoja Lahdessa is an impressive summary of one phase of his career. It has also been published in German and French.

Italy

Selected by Matteo Stefanelli
Matteo Stefanelli is a media scholar at Università Cattolica of Milan, and a comics critic and curator. He has written on comics for several newspapers and magazines, and published books on theory and history of comics: La bande dessinée: une médiaculture (Armand Colin, 2012); Fumetto! 150 anni di storie italiane (Rizzoli, 2012). He is the founder of comics culture online magazine Fumettologica.it.


Remi Tot in Stunt
by Martoz
MalEdizioni



Remi Tot is a “stuntman of reality”, a brilliant mathematician with stunning capacity of compute/calculate that allows him to predict the future. He is an ordinary employee of a big corporation, but he uses his ability to save people from huge catastrophes, ‘programming’ and executing spectacular rescues. He and his author Martoz – a young illustrator and graffiti artist whose debut in longform was the biggest surprise in 2015 – fold and unfold geometries, the former exploiting a deep knowledge of comics and avant-garde art (Prampolini, Sironi, Balla, Picasso…), the latter through unconventional actions and extraordinary computations. At a frenzied pace, playing with math & art turns in an unexpected visual thinking experience, oscillating between informality and deconstruction, sketchy and colorful graphics, negative spaces and cubist volume building. A post-futurism ode to the “beauty of velocity”, for all of us fascinated by explosions, equations and graphic explorations. Read an excerpt of the book here; and an interview with Alessandro “Martoz” Martorelli is here…



Viaggio a Tokyo (“Journey to Tokyo”)
by Vincenzo Filosa
Canicola Edizioni

While the appropriation of gekiga tradition and storytelling is increasing within Western authors, Filosa’s take is a compelling and emblematic one. His travel story is both an inner investigation and a discovery of the history of Japanese comics. The journey’s goal is an individual, obsessive search for the best ways and techniques to tell stories; but as soon as the sojourn go ahead, the investigation reveal its nature as a path towards authenticity – of graphic style, storytelling and of “real” Japan. Mediated by his passion for manga and a bunch of previously published authors (in Italy) such as Tatsumi, Hanawa or Maruo, Filosa will discover works by Tadao Tsuge, brother of Yoshiharu. A revelation whose effects will drive him to more inquiries, a lot of readings, strange encounters, an attempted meeting with his new mentor, and finally some new consciousness about Japan and its comic art: a sense of failure in his quest, but also the ripening of his artistic limits. Filosa’s stylistic mimicry of Tsuge brothers is evident, but not arid, thanks to his irony, poetic outbursts, and a consistent willingness to get involved, getting lost, and giving us back the feelings of a journey in cultural (mis)perception.
 Read an excerpt of the book here…; and a review (in Italian) is here…


L’estate scorsa (“Last Summer”)
by Paolo Cattaneo
Canicola Edizioni

This book is the second longform – but first ‘important’ non-selfpublished publication – by Paolo Cattaneo, a young talent already seen in several anthologies, among which Delebile. It’s a teenage coming-of-age story, focusing on a group of Genoese schoolmates in Italy during the nineties. In the summer of 1997, five almost-teens are followed escaping family duties, wasting time walking in the woods and exploring friendship and relationship twists, under the gaze of Hale-Bopp comet. A very slow-paced story that will go through some initiatory moment and a mysterious hut, straight to a conclusive tragic and metaphorical burning. Video stores and early sms, Castlevania, Estathé, Haribo candies, analog music cassettes… Contextual details are carefully chosen, and resonates as an emotional portrait of a decade, from a disenchanted point of view. But Cattaneo’s mastery of drawing is empathic not because of documentary reasons, but thanks to his idiosyncratic work on more sensorial and bodily details: noises and onomatopoeia, gestures and neuroses, some rare fur around the lips, ordinary acne, droplets of sweat. L’estate scorsa is both a melancholic and disturbing journey into memory, plunged by a “texture of things” that makes everything unstable and vibrant. For Canicola Edizioni, another sign (beside Filosa’s debut and the very cogent books by Andrea Bruno and Giacomo Nanni) of what has been its best year to date. Read an excerpt of the book here…; and a studio interview with the author is here…



Le variazioni d’Orsay (“Orsay’s variations”)
by Manuele Fior
Coconino Press

Manuele Fior is back with a new book, in which he explores the halls of the Parisian Musée d’Orsay, with a style reminiscent of the Art Nouveau atmosphere of his Mademoiselle Else; moreover, the book marks the author’s return to full color (with gouache) after The Interview’s black and white wash drawing. Even if a commissioned project – he lucidly described it as an “exercise in style” – the book is far from being a mere “tour guide” to the museum collection, and it rather tries to capture the soul of Orsay, starting from the invisible links that weave the works exhibited therein. The structure of the book is that of a collection of fragments, reminiscent of One Thousand and One Nights, whose core is a parade of artists and visitors, night keepers and imaginary creatures, mixed together. From one side Fior deploys a taste for the anecdote, pushing on curiosity, exploring the everyday life that lies behind some major paintings. On the other side, flipping through a catalogue of artworks leads him to delve into the true nature of artists – from Degas to Rousseu, Van Gogh, Ingres…  –: Le variazioni d’Orsay is a graphic novel about what inspiration (maybe) is. Read the opening sequence of the book /here…; and an interview with Manuele Fior is here…


Quaderni giapponesi (“Japanese Notebooks”)
by Igort
Coconino Press


25 years ago, Igort came to Japan to work there, invited by the publisher Kodansha. A collaboration that will last eleven years. That is the main reason behind the book, but not its main scope. Besides a decade-long working relationship, Quaderni giapponesi is the result of a broader cultural and aesthetic connection that made Igort one of the most conscious authors (ever) about the differences of western and eastern comics traditions.
The book is far from a travel notebook: the journey is backwards, within memories and nostalgia. Igort investigates the silence of a Zen monastery, the gestures of the tea ceremony, the art of Hokusai and Hiroshige, the brutal violence of Yakuza gangs, the sad story of geisha – and killer – Abe Sada. He also recalls special encounters with Takeshi Kitano, Jiro Taniguchi, Hayao Miyazaki and tries to capture the toughness and the poetry of Gekiga, or the work ethics in manga industry. Among the ‘trilogy’ of his notebooks (after Ukraine and Russia), this installment is the most erratic, self-indulgent and less journalistic (many elements are brought into consideration, but not always unfolded), but at the same time it is also the most performative and inventive. The pleasure of drawing is at its core, and the discipline of visual contemplation is what makes this book a testimony in method: for comic artists, what matters is the way of seeing things. 
Read an excerpt of the book here…


Anubi
by Simone Angelini and Marco Taddei
Grrrz Comic Art Books



Anubi is a slacker. A now retired Egyptian deity that spends his time attending sociopaths and drinking Campari, lost in some alienated Italian province (a blend between Pescara and Fano). Anubi is a black comedy, built around the weird meetings and gags of the ex-God with a couple of friends (and haters), such as: a gang of smoking nuns; Horus, the sun god, he too faded; William S. Burroughs; his friend Enrico, a toxic; the ambiguous city police; some old diehards of the neighborhood. The visual economy of Angelini adds a lot to the tone of this epic post-juvenile discomfort graphic novel. A nihilistic divertissement that offers a fresh way of telling stories about teen angst, dropouts slices-of-life and urban province. A never-exhausted field of enquiry, for the latest generations of Italian comics artists. Read an excerpt of the book here…



Spain

Selected by Alfons Moliné
Alfons Moliné is an animator, translator, and writer on the subjects of comics, animation and manga. He is the author of a number of books, including El Gran Libro de los Manga (Glénat, 2002) and biographies of Osamu Tezuka, Carl Barks and Rumiko Takahashi. Recently he co-wrote ¡Eso es todo, amigos! (Diabolo, 2015), a history of Warner Bros. cartoons.


¡García! Vol. 1
by Santiago García & Luis Bustos
Astiberri

The prolific writer and comic researcher Santiago García (whose graphic novel Beowulf, drawn by David Rubin, was reviewed three years ago here…), has teamed up with artist Luis Bustos to create ¡García!, a take-off of a classic Spanish cops-and-robbers comic series, Roberto Alcázar y Pedrín, which was very popular from the early 1940s to the mid-1970s, despite simplistic scripts and crude artwork. Ricardo García is a secret agent at the service of the Spanish (Francoist, naturally) government, who went into hibernation in 1961; more than 50 years later, like a modern Rip van Winkle, he wakes up and finds himself in present-day Spain, obviously experiencing a culture shock about changes in his country’s society. García (the hero) feels out of place in his new environment, until he gets involved in a political plot… to be continued in Volume Two. The writer García uses the narrative techniques of a good old action comic to depict a portrait of Spain’s current sociopolitical situation, which leads us to reflect on whether things have really changed since Franco’s death or not… Luis Bustos’ crisp black-and-white artwork, with echoes from American masters like Jack Kirby or Frank Miller, but also from ‘god of manga’ Osamu Tezuka, ideally suits García’s cleverly paced script. As a bonus, each chapter in the book is separated by short intermissions featuring Ricardo García and his sidekick Jaimito in action, emulating the primitive artwork of Roberto Alcázar y Pedrín, but actually drawn by Manel Fontdevila, who was the artist originally scheduled for this project.



La Casa: Crónica de una Conquista (‘The House: Chronicle of a Conquest’)
by Daniel Torres
Norma

The latest work of the veteran creator of Roco Vargas is a mammoth 516-page book, which was originally planned as a series of 12 volumes, but eventually becoming a single one. It looks at first sight merely like a didactic history of housing through the ages, but it quickly reveals itself to be much more than that. Actually, it’s a history of mankind using the house as the human being’s main nucleus in life as a reference. Throughout the 26 chapters of La casa, Torres depicts the evolution of homes in parallel to key historic events, from the Neolithic era to the 21st century, by means of a clever mix of comics and illustrated pages with text, displaying once more his masterful use of colour and his passion for detail. Torres, himself a college student of Architecture before devoting himself to comics, had already demonstrated his talent in depicting buildings, real or imaginary, in his previous works, but in La casa it’s the building which becomes the protagonist and silent witness of the evolutions and revolutions of our world, while evolving itself through the unfolding architectural styles and movements. After completing La casa, which took six years to complete - three of them devoted to researching - Torres is already planning his next opus, a new Roco Vargas adventure.


¡Oh Diabólica Ficción! (‘O Diabolical Fiction!’)
by MaxM
La Cúpula

¡Oh diabólica ficción!, the latest book by Max, an alias for Francesc Capdevila, compiles a series of 2-page comics, previously published in the Sunday supplement of daily newspaper El País in 2013-15. It also includes several pages of previously unpublished material as a bonus, some of them co-drawn with Mireia Pérez. These strips star a pompous black bird - more accurately, a magpie - who personifies the spirit of literary inspiration and who reflects with a hint of irony on the need and the process of creating fictional stories. Max couples the bird’s verbal deliberations with a highly creative use of visual resources (colour, panel layouts and even the panel’s extradiegetic space), continuously reinventing the language of comics as a vehicle to convey ideas. The result is a new masterpiece in the long career of this author, who has remained faithful to his commitment to restlessly innovate in the comics medium since his beginnings in the early 70’s as a pioneer of the underground comix scene in Spain.


La Balada del Norte, Vol. 1 (‘Ballad of the North’)
by Alfonso Zapico
Astiberri

Alfonso Zapico revealed himself in 2012 as one of Spain’s most remarkable emerging comic authors with his graphic novel Dublinés (published in English in 2013 by The O’Brien Press as Portrait of a Dubliner), which retraced in detail and not without humour the life and times of James Joyce. Now he tackles a little known fact of 20th century Spain: the miners’ revolution which took place in 1934 in the Northern region of Asturias, where Zapico was born. The plot evolves around Tristan, the young son of a Marquis who, after spending some time in Paris, returns to his homeland. He eventually becomes involved, in spite of himself, in the rebellion by the workers of the mine, which is owned by his father, over their poor working conditions and their dominating patrons. Zapico faithfully recreates the atmosphere of the period using a semi-cartoony style with elaborate wash artwork, while showcasing his talent at creating characters with deep psychological and emotional baggage which connect effectively with the reader. There’s romance: Tristan falls in love with the daughter of the mine foreman. There’s social criticism, there’s well-documented history and more in the 232 pages of this first volume (like ¡García!, this work will consist of two volumes), making us wait anxiously for the next instalment, not just for the story’s denouement, but also to behold the continuous improvement of Zapico’s visual and narrative craftsmanship.


Sweden

Selected by Fredrik Strömberg
Fredrik Strömberg is a journalist, author, curator and historian. He is one of the editors of Bild & Bubbla, Scandinavia’s largest as well as the world’s second oldest magazine about comics, and President of the Swedish Comics Association. He heads the Comic Art School of Sweden, is the editor of Scandinavian Journal of Comic Art and writes regularly on www.sekventiellt.se. Among the books he has written are the English language Swedish Comics History, Black Images in the Comics, The Comics Go to Hell, Comic Art Propaganda and Jewish Images in the Comics.


Det kunde varit jag (‘It Could Have been me’)
by Sara Olausson
Kartago

This is a book that doesn’t leave the reader unmoved. No one, well in Sweden at least, will have missed out on the fact that comics artist Sara Olausson has a burning commitment to changing the fate of an EU migrant/beggar whom she has befriended. They have both appeared in virtually all the Swedish media these last few years, in a deliberate campaign by Olausson to generate a debate and raise interest, both for general issues of poverty, EU migrants and the situation of the Roma, as for the specific fate of Felicia. This book consists of short comics, excerpts from diaries, personal reflections, Facebook posts, transcribed speeches, Olausson’s photos from trips to Romania and more, in what feels like a cross between an autobiography, a political pamphlet and a scrapbook. What really affected me when reading was Olausson’s extremely forthright and naked way of writing, perhaps exemplified most clearly in the penultimate text, in which she writes that her husband had just left her and their three kids, and that she, at the same time as she was in the midst of the chaos that this created, was trying to figure out how she should finish the book. When you’ve come so far in the story and have experienced Olausson’s sincere commitment and struggle to get everyday life to work, at the same time as she’s trying to help Felicia, it really hurts to read this. Det kunde vara jag is a book that combines an engaging autobiographical story with one of the most burning issues in today’s Swedish society. As such it is not only “important” but also very, very good.


Den svarta jorden: Vandrande stjärnor 2 (‘The Black Earth: Wandering Stars’ 2)
by Lars Krantz
Apart

Lars Krantz is probably THE most singular and artistically interesting Swedish comics artist working right now. Krantz has for several years been telling stories that are set in a fictitious version of reality, a Sweden in the 1910s where a mysterious war is on-going, some sort of plague is raging and all kinds of supernatural elements seems to exist. It’s an intriguing mix of history, horror and thriller. This is the second and final part of the epic Vandrande stjärnor (‘Wandering stars’), the first long story set in Krantz’s world. It is incredibly beautiful with its well-composed black-and-white images, pages and spreads, creepily frightening in a way that gives you an empty feeling in your stomach after reading it, and intellectually challenging with visual cues high and low – from today’s popular culture to the Bible, and everything in between. Moreover, it is a story that touches on a human level at the same time as it contains a lot of fantastical elements. And all this is so clearly only the first part of building a bigger world, where Krantz seems to have all the underlying factors sorted, suggesting that there will be many more volumes set in his frightening what-if version of Sweden in the 1910s. Visually, it’s stunning. Krantz has taken another step artistically and is today at least as interesting as the international comics artists with whom he is often compared, such as Charles Burns and Frank Miller. International publishers, take note! But he has also taken another step storywise. The narrative is on one level more straightforward, at the same time as there are still elements that are not explained, but are left to the imagination to create tension and expectation in the reader.


Curly Bracket: Den glömda koden (‘Curly Bracket: The Forgotten Code’)
by Johan Wendt & Peter Bergting
Bonnier Carlsen

I never thought I’d write this, but this is a really good Swedish graphic novel for younger readers, with clear educational/didactic purposes. OK, the story is obviously based on The Matrix and other dystopian futures, but it is exciting and captivating, while continually presenting mathematical, or as they write in the book, ‘computer science’ problems that the protagonist must solve. The last third of the book contains educational briefings of how the hero came up with her solutions, and they are almost as interesting as the main story. The images by Peter Bergting reek of adventure and fit this story like a glove. A book I will definitely recommend to teachers who want inspirational comics for their classes. I can only hope that, as the end indicates, there are plans for a continuation, as this is the kind of comics we desperately need more of.


Switzerland

Selected by Christian Gasser
Christian Gasser is a swiss fiction-writer, journalist and lecturer at the Lucerne University of Art & Design. He reviews comics for various newspapers, magazines and radio-networks in Switzerland and Germany. He is the co-editor of the comics-magazine STRAPAZIN, the co-curator of the Graphic Novel Days in Hamburg and a member of the “Max und Moritz Preis”-Jury of the Erlangen Comic-Festival. His latest books: “animation.ch. Vision and Versatility in Swiss Animated Film” (2011, as an enhanced e-Book in 2016), “Comix Deluxe” (2012), “Rakkaus! (Finnish: Liebe)” (novel, 2014).


Das Karma-Problem (‘The Karma Problem’)
by Reto Gloor
Edition Moderne

The fatigue, the disturbance of equilibrium, the dizziness – Reto Gloor could have coped with them all. But when he had to acknowledge that he wasn’t able to draw a straight line anymore, he went to the doctor. After all, drawing comics was part of his identity, as he stresses several time in “Das Karma-Problem”. The tests in the hospital brought it light that Reto Gloor suffers from Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Is there anything worse for an artist than to lose his ability to draw? After a first shock, however, Reto Gloor picks himself up and begins to chronicle his life with this incurable illness. He describes how he doubts the diagnosis, how he lies to himself, how he naively seeks help with clairvoyants and other charlatans. He shows how difficult it is to cope psychologically with this illness, and he lets us witness the deterioration of his physical abilities. Soon he needs a walking stick, and his therapist preventatively mentions the wheel-chair… This 96-page graphic novel is an existential drama, and the sobriety with which Reto Gloor tells it, is astonishing. Of course, one feels his desperation, and sometimes he expresses it openly, but most of the time, his despair is contained within the white gaps between the panels and not inside the drawings themselves. The art contributes to this impression: Reto Gloor can’t draw anymore with pen and paper, he had to learn to work with the computer. The lines are clean, the grey and blue colouring is cool, the faces and bodies of the protagonists are stylised and neutral and don’t express much emotion. The difference from Reto Gloor’s earlier graphic novels like the very successful Matter is huge. Das Karma-Problem” is an astonishing comic for a different reason. On the one hand, it tells a lot about an illness we all know but most of us don’t understand. On the other hand, “Das Karma-Problem” is not hopeless, in spite of the fact that the illness is incurable. The main story in this book is how Reto Gloor manages in the face of his illness to reinvent himself as a comic-artist. In fact, Das Karma-Problem” is his first comic after a 20-year-hiatus.

Posted: February 29, 2016

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